They jumped out of the dark. The oldest held a kitchen knife that looked like it had been dipped in shit about three lifetimes ago.
Just this past weekend, while chatting online on our private writers’ page with SOFREP’s resident badass George Hand, a fellow former 7th SFG and Delta operator, we compared notes and pictures from our time in Morocco. Geo had been there with Delta doing all of the cool-guy shit that Delta operators do. I, on the other hand, was there in a very different capacity. I was there as the Security Adviser for the Hollywood film, The Green Zone based on the real-life experiences of Monty Gonzales, a former Ranger Regiment guy who was in Iraq hunting for WMDs.
I had sent Geo a pic from Morocco and he asked if he could post it on his public Facebook page, which he did. Several of the guys I had worked with there posted comments and sure enough, someone mentioned an incident that took place involving… yes, the Security Adviser. So, Geo got their interest’s piqued and I figured, what the hell, it wasn’t the first time I’d been embarrassed and certainly won’t be the last.
The Green Zone was a fun film to work on. We had a fantastic cast and crew of at times 350 people including extras. The film starred Matt Damon, Greg Kinnear, Jason Isaacs, Brendan Gleeson, and Amy Ryan — a talented crew. The film was being directed by Paul Greengrass, (Bourne films, United 93). Significantly, nearly all of the actors portraying the men in Damon’s Army unit weren’t professional actors but actual Iraq war vets who were hired to give a much more realistic feel to things.
Everyone got along extremely well and there was nary a hint of any issues (other than the weather) that could plague a large budget film. We were all based in a couple of hotels in the center of Rabat, Morocco, about two blocks from the Marketplace (Medina) and right on the ocean. Our hotel was right across the street from the Tomb of Mohammed and the Hassan Tower. There were always tons of cops there because of the site.
However, boys will be boys. And what happens in Rabat, stays in Rabat. The longer we were there, the more problems; we even had some of the male members of the crew going into the Red Light district late at night and oftentimes alone. The area was full of small gangs of thieves who would prey upon the outnumbered. The results were that many of them would get robbed or rolled and they would then call me looking for assistance.
The common refrain from the Security Office was, “Number one: we’re not preaching morality here, just common sense. Don’t go to the Red Light district, especially late at night. And number two, never travel anywhere alone.” I said that so many times, I got sick of hearing it myself. Little did I know that I would be the next person to fall victim to a breach of the second rule.
One night, I was sitting in the hotel lobby bar with my good friend Barnaby. We were talking about hockey while he rubbed it in my nose that his beloved Giants had just beaten the Patriots in the Super Bowl. In actuality, the only two Patriots fans on the entire cast and crew were Mr. Damon and yours truly.
But after going up to my room, I couldn’t fall asleep, Rabat late-night television isn’t what I’d characterize as great. I figured a late-night walk in the cool air around the hotel would be just fine, I’d walk around the Tomb of Mohammed since it is well lit and there are always a ton of cops there.
Getting off the elevator, I should have known that it was a bad idea. The lobby was a ghost town, no security at the door, no clerk at the front desk, nobody. It felt like the deserted city scene in the “Devil’s Advocate.”
All I had on was a pair of sweatpants, a Red Sox sweatshirt, and my Special Forces ring which I never took off. No cash, no wallet, no I.D., just my room key. I walked across the street along some shrubs that lined the Tomb. I entered the huge open expanse that was on the opposite side of the Tomb. It was right then that I heard them.
On the opposite side of the shrubs, a small group of hoodlums was tearing up the street. I could see their heads running along the sidewalk. As they approached the entrance they split into two groups. One group of three entered the expanse and the rest kept going down to the next one, to cut off my escape route. Fuck, where the hell were the cops ?!?
I cut diagonally back to the lower edge where there were more shrubs and an exit near the roundabout in the road. No cops, nada. Shit.
They jumped out of the dark right by the exit. The oldest, a young punk around 17-18, held a kitchen knife that looked like it had been dipped in shit about three lifetimes ago. When they caught up to me, they realized I was at least a head taller than all of them and it gave them the slightest pause. But the young leader holding the blade was undeterred. His knife gave him courage. He yelled something in French, which I don’t speak a word of. (Geo, I needed your language skills!) I shrugged as if to say I don’t understand.
They all started to jibber-jabber in a mixture of Arabic and French and the tough guy leader gestured for money. I didn’t have any, just a room key and my ring, and those little shits weren’t getting that. I put my hands out to say, “Okay I will give it to you” and moved my hand to my pocket. At that time, the leader lowered his knife slightly. I grasped the opportunity. I grabbed his skinny little wrist and twisted it as hard as I could, trying to snap the fucker in half. The knife clattered to the ground. And with the adrenaline going, I punched him as hard as I could right in the forehead. He went ass over tea kettle into the shrubs.
Now I was pissed. I grabbed the knife and the rest of those little shits decided that robbing this particular foreigner wasn’t a great idea and took off. With the knife in my hand, I gave chase down the middle of the street. And guess who suddenly showed up at that point? The Rabat cops.
The cops saw a white guy, with a knife in his hand, chasing a bunch of local punks and they acted. They surrounded me pointing their guns at me. With four of them shouting, the only thing I recognized is that they wanted me to get down on the street. I gave them the universal language that they understood immediately. I told them to go fuck themselves.
Right before they commenced to either shooting me or beating the hell out of me with clubs, an officer showed up who spoke some English. I made him quickly aware that it was me who was being robbed. He understood and took a statement from me that took too long because his English was limited and my knowledge of French and Arabic was virtually non-existent.
So much for sleep that night. The next morning on the set, I ran into Monty and his brother Jason and told them how I had broken my own rules and nearly got robbed right outside of the hotel. After embarrassingly swearing them to secrecy I wandered off to walk around the set perimeter — as a way to stay awake more than anything else.
By that afternoon, either the hotel people blabbing to others in the crew or my buddy Monty spilling the beans, everyone knew that the “security guy that tells everyone not to go out alone almost got robbed for doing the same stuff.” Besides feeling like a hypocrite, I ignored it. Our director, Paul, saw me in the afternoon and asked me what happened. I cringed and relayed the story exactly how it went down. He laughed.
“I heard that this morning,” he said. “But it has been making the rounds among the crew and it has gotten better with each telling. Now there were a dozen al-Qaeda guys with AKs and RPGs storming the hotel.” Paul laughed and said, “I can’t wait to see what it have become by tonight.”
The story had an even more sublime ending. About a week later, I came down about 6 a.m. as we were heading out to the old U.S. airbase at Kenitra to film there. The base was about 45 minutes from the hotel. It was the same airbase that “Black Hawk Down” was filmed at. My Moroccan driver, Hassan who spoke English, Spanish, French, and Arabic was waiting for me as usual.
Just then a slew of Moroccan cops entered the hotel lobby. They went to the desk and after speaking with the clerk, I saw the clerk gesture toward me. Four cops and a guy with a camera, all speaking at the same time, surrounded me.
“What are they saying?” I asked my driver. “Steve, they want to take a picture of your hand,” Hassan said. Unsure of what they wanted I looked at the guy with the camera and he just kept gesturing to put my hands on the table. When I did he snapped some pictures. It was then that another cop entered. He started talking at length with my driver, who smiled at me. Next, the cop produced some photos of the little punk with the knife — they had caught him.
My driver was laughing, “he said it wasn’t him, that he wasn’t there,” Hassan said. “But look at the last picture.” Sure enough, right above his left eye, on his forehead, was a perfect cut, an indent from the top of my SF ring. The crossed arrowheads and the loop of the crest were unmistakable. The cops had made note of my ring initially and then needed a picture to corroborate their report. “He’s going to get 11 years… automatic,” the cop said to my driver who translated. “He’ll be gone later today.” The wheels of the justice system turn very fast there.
So, yes, I was the hypocrite who broke his own rules. Luckily for me, I didn’t have a steep price to pay other than embarrassment. As Paul Harvey used to say, “now you know the rest of the story…”
Have a nice week.
This article was originally published in May 2020.